Felony disenfranchisement in Virginia

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Felony disenfranchisement in Virginia is a provision of the Virginia Constitution: "No person who has been convicted of a felony shall be qualified to vote unless his civil rights have been restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority".[1]

Governor Ralph Northam will likely continue the more-or-less automatic restoration policy instituted by his predecessor Terry McAuliffe, who personally signed 168,000 orders restoring voting rights.[2] The matter was a major issue in the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial campaign.


The 1830 Virginia constitution limited disenfranchisement to "infamous crimes", while its 1851 successor drafted by reformers added bribery and the 1870 charter targeted treason and corruption. The 1902 constitution contained a clause that disenfranchised Virginians convicted of numerous crimes, including "treason or of any felony, bribery, petit larceny, obtaining money or property under false pretenses, embezzlement, forgery, or perjury." The current constitution was adopted in 1972.[3]

On 30 June 2014, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe officially removed application requirements for non-violent felons.[4] Offenders with "violent/more serious" felonies were required to satisfy several conditions and appeal to the governor five years after the end of completing the sentence in order to regain voting rights.[5]

On 22 April 2016, McAuliffe issued an executive order granting voting rights to every convicted felon in the state, violent and non-violent, who had been released from prison, on parole or probation.[6]

The Virginia Supreme Court ultimately ruled, in a 4–3 decision, that McAuliffe's executive order was unconstitutional, and that restoring voting rights must be an individualized process.[7] Terry McAuliffe now is restoring rights to "individuals who have been convicted of a felony and are no longer incarcerated or under active supervision . . . In addition to confirming completion of incarceration and supervised release, the SOC considers factors such as active warrants, pre-trial hold, and other concerns that may be flagged by law enforcement. . . . The Governor will review SOC's analysis of each individual’s record and will make the final decision on proposed candidates for restoration of rights."[8]

McAuliffe noted that the next governor could have an entirely different policy on restoration of rights.[9]

Proposed constitutional amendments[edit]

A number of amendments have been proposed to revamp the requirements for restoration of rights. In 2017, the Virginia Senate passed a constitutional amendment to permanently disenfranchise violent felons,[10] with the Virginia General Assembly being empowered to decide what constitutes a violent felony,[11] but this died in the Virginia House of Delegates Privileges and Elections committee.[12] Delegate Greg Habeeb had introduced a more moderate proposal than that proposed by Thomas Norment.[13]


  1. ^ http://law.lis.virginia.gov/constitution/article2/section1/
  2. ^ Ford, Matt (October 24, 2017). "The Strangest Political Attack Ad of 2017". The Atlantic. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  3. ^ Ford, Matt. "'To Disenfranchise Every Negro That I Could'". TheAtlantic.com. Retrieved January 5, 2018.
  4. ^ Times-Dispatch, Markus Schmidt Richmond. "McAuliffe restores voting rights of 2,500 felons". Roanoke.com. Retrieved January 5, 2018.
  5. ^ "VA Secretary of the Commonwealth: Clemency". Commonwealth.virginia.gov. Retrieved 2013-11-08.
  6. ^ Stolberg, Sheryl Gay (22 April 2016). "Virginia Governor Restores Voting Rights to Felons". New York Times. Retrieved 22 April 2016.
  7. ^ Board, Editorial (July 26, 2016). "Virginia's voting rights debacle". Retrieved January 5, 2018 – via www.WashingtonPost.com.
  8. ^ https://commonwealth.virginia.gov/media/6733/restoration-of-rights-policy-memo-82216.pdf
  9. ^ "Terry McAuliffe: Restoration of voting rights, one year later". PilotOnline.com. Retrieved January 5, 2018.
  10. ^ "VA Senate Republicans Pass "Kim Davis Bill," Constitutional Amendment to Permanently Disenfranchise Ex-Felons - Blue Virginia". BlueVirginia.us. Retrieved January 5, 2018.
  11. ^ Fain, Travis. "Norment: Take governor, and violent felons, out of rights restoration". DailyPress.com. Retrieved January 5, 2018.
  12. ^ "LIS > Bill Tracking > SJ223 > 2017 session". lis.Virginia.gov. Retrieved January 5, 2018.
  13. ^ Times-Dispatch, GRAHAM MOOMAW Richmond. "House Republicans unveil felon voting proposal with gun twist". Richmond.com. Retrieved January 5, 2018.